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Childhood Obesity Strategy

Volume 617: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2016

The Department is working closely with Public Health England, the national health service, local authorities, schools and other partners as we implement the childhood obesity strategy. We have already taken firm action, including consulting on the soft drinks industry levy and launching a broad sugar reduction programme.

Channel 4’s “Dispatches” programme has comprehensively demonstrated how the former Prime Minister’s obesity strategy was drastically watered down by the time of the final publication. Both Public Health England and the Health Committee agree that control of in-store promotions of unhealthy food is absolutely vital. Why was regulation of such promotions ditched from the Government strategy?

We have made no secret of the fact that we considered a range of policies before publishing the childhood obesity strategy, which is a world-leading strategy and one of the most ambitious in the world. It will cut childhood obesity by one fifth in the next 10 years, and I am determined that we do not get lost in a debate about what it could or should have been, but instead get on with implementing it. Our children deserve no less.

A few weeks ago, I hosted a Westminster forum on the implementation of the strategy, at which there was much consternation about why another important recommendation—the creation of a 9 pm watershed to reduce children’s exposure to junk food advertising—was cut. Does the Minister not realise the seriousness of the obesity crisis, and can she explain why that important measure was dumped?

Current restrictions on the advertising of less healthy food and drink in the UK are among the toughest in the world, so I am pleased to reassure the hon. Gentleman and his constituents on that fact.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to some excellent leadership from the private sector? Lucozade Ribena Suntory, which is based in my constituency, announced last week —rather buried in the news from the United States of America, I am afraid—that it was going to take 50% of sugar out of its soft drinks by reformulating all its new and existing products. That demonstrates really good leadership and is an example to other companies.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s question. He is absolutely right. We very much welcome the actions of not only Lucozade but Tesco in cutting the sugar in their drinks. It is proof that doing so is possible and meets the expectations of many consumers.

Recent data from the national childhood measurement programme shows that obesity rates have risen for the second consecutive year. With that in mind, will the Minister outline what further steps she has taken to make the childhood obesity plan for action into a true strategy?

As I have been saying during this Question Time, I am absolutely determined to focus on implementing the plan that we have. It is one of the most ambitious in the world, and it will deliver a reduction of a fifth in childhood obesity over the next decade. However, we have been clear that this is not the final word; it is just the beginning of the conversation. I would welcome contributions from my hon. Friend, who is a dogged campaigner on this issue.

Yesterday, on World Diabetes Day, the Prime Minister opened the new headquarters of Diabetes UK and said that the number of cases of diabetes increased by 75% in the last decade. The Minister and I attended the launch of the Food Foundation’s declaration on how to tackle obesity. Which of the 10 measures put forward by the foundation has she decided to accept?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue, and we are considering the contributions from the Food Foundation, which are very important. He is right about the role that obesity plays in triggering diabetes. That is why we are focusing on preventing type 2 diabetes through the world’s first national diabetes prevention programme, which aims to deliver at-scale, evidence-based behavioural change to support people to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

May I urge the Minister, in tackling childhood obesity, not to go down the line of nanny-state proposal after nanny-state proposal, but instead to look at Active Movement, which is in operation in a number of areas around the country? It builds exercise into the average day of children in schools, and it is already making a great difference to childhood obesity levels.

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for a key plank of the childhood obesity strategy, which is helping all children to enjoy an hour of physical activity every day and which will include physical movement as well as specific physical education.

Another target that “Dispatches” uncovered was to be scrapped was the target to halve childhood obesity by 2026. This was compounded by recent national childhood measurement data showing that obesity is on the rise and that obesity rates are more than double in deprived areas compared with more affluent ones. Instead of squandering this opportunity, the Government should be pushing ahead with a comprehensive and preventive strategy. Can the Minister explain, therefore, why this significant target was dropped from the Government’s plans to tackle childhood obesity?

The hon. Lady is right to say that the childhood obesity strategy is one of our key priorities for tackling health inequalities in the UK. Obesity prevalence for children living in the most deprived areas is double that for those living in the least deprived areas, and the gap continues to widen. That is exactly why we will press ahead with the plan, but, as she has said, this is just the beginning of the conversation and we will continue to fight obesity as a government priority.